Cowboys prepare for desperate Panthers battle
The North Queensland Cowboys are readying themselves for a high stakes game against the Penrith Panthers, with a four-point turnaround on the cards for the losing team.
With the Panthers clutching on to a top eight spot on 26 competition points and the Cowboys one win ahead in sixth on 28 points, both teams have it all to play for.
A win for the Panthers is likely to take them to sixth based on their for-and-against, while the Cowboys are playing for the chance to return to within striking distance of the top four, with fifth their likely position depending on the result of the Parramatta Eels' game.
The log-jam for a spot in the top four is likely to return with the third-placed Brisbane Broncos and fourth-placed Cronulla Sharks going up against each other, and with one of them set to stay on 30 points there will be four teams on equal points if the Cowboys and seventh-placed Manly Sea Eagles win.
On the other hand if the Cowboys lose they are likely to tumble to eighth spot on the ladder.
This doesn't affect the Cowboys' job on the weekend according to fullback Lachlan Coote, but he is ready for the Panthers to show some desperation to keep their season alive.
"They've got some good front-rowers that set their platform… their attacking breaks, offloads and stuff like that, they're a pretty ad-lib team and not that much structure about them but that can be very dangerous," Coote said.
"It's going to be tough, there's no doubt they're looking to secure their spot in the finals and so are we, we're hoping to stay around the top of the table. It's going to be a tough clash and there's no doubt that both teams are going to be ready."
The game will be the second between the teams since Round 16, when a clutch kick from Ethan Lowe goal after the siren sunk the Panthers.
Despite Cowboys captain Gavin Cooper being absent, along with winger Antonio Winterstein, Lowe is confident that the team will lift to make up for the injured senior players with Maroons forward Coen Hess moving into the starting side.
"We've had tough luck this year with the injuries but the boys we've got there we know we can do the job with and we're pretty confident," Lowe said.
"[Penrith] are on a bit of a roll too so it's going to be tough, but we think the boys can step up and do the job and we think we're going to do well.
"It's going to be fairly tough [to replace Cooper] but we're lucky we've got big 'Hessy' who played a fair bit of edge at the start of the year and he pumped out a few 80-minute games. It will still be a bit of a challenge for him but we've got a bloke there who can do the job."